Me, Myself & Sex
Words by James Perrett
Illustrations by Junaid Gull
Dawn: for some people it means sliding out of a stranger's bed, crawling around the floor in search of their underwear then skulking down an unknown street, staring into the window of every Prius in a desperate hunt for their Uber. For some it means waking up alone.
When somebody close to me told me that not only she but a number of friends were saving their virginities for marriage, I was surprised. I thought it was not only rare these days, especially for people her age, but surely very difficult. It crossed my mind that there might be LGBTQ+ people choosing to do the same but after I reached out on Twitter, hunted through Meetup groups, called churches and asked old friends, I found nobody for weeks.
Just as I gave up on the idea that we're not all the sex-obsessed, image-obsessed party animals that mainstream LGBTQ+ media paints us out to be, three brave men stepped forward, one of whom I profiled in this month’s issue of Dear Boy. Here are the other two guys’ stories;
Anthony is 25, originally from Cornwall and now living in Salford. He's still a Cornishman though; when I tell him that I have family in Devon he jokes: "Devon is simply a place you drive through to get to Cornwall." At least, I think that was a joke. He's currently single though has had one year-long relationship a few years ago
JP: You mentioned that you had sex once five years ago and haven't again. What's the story there?
A: Yeah it's quite a long story I guess. When I was back in Cornwall I had sex once with a random chap I met online...if I recall it was Gaydar (lol). It's Cornwall so there wasn't a lot of choice. He was a lot, lot older than me and he was Irish. We'd been chatting for a long time. He lived in a dingy little flat above a charity shop and I got the bus to his, after lots of chatting and we had sex.
I also come from a very, very religious family so I grew up in an environment where men were men and had sex with women and were straight and gay men didn't really exist in my family.
This time I hooked up with P, I can remember how I felt after it happened and I can remember the bus journey home so well. It wasn't a fab feeling because of all this mumbo jumbo in my head.
JP: Were you young at this point?
A: I wasn't young really! It was 5 years ago so I would have been 20
JP: So what happened next?
A: Pretty much nothing, until I came out. I knew I didn't want to feel like how I felt when I had sex with P.
JP: Do you mind me asking what religion you are?
A: Catholic. Although I am now a complete atheist. I have completely lost my faith. This is all a bit depressing isn't it!
JP: How so? What made you completely lose your faith?
A: It was always conflicted for me. I believed what I always believed and what I was told to believe. When all the horrific stuff went down when I came out, I went through a year or so of super questioning everything that I'd been brought up to believe.
JP: When you say horrific stuff that went down, do you mean with your family?
A: Yeah with my family. It's not much of a story though, pretty predictable. I had my place on my course so I knew whatever happened I'd be able to escape. I came out and was told in no less words to get out. Mainly orchestrated by my uncle actually.
It saddens me that Anthony dismisses his story as "pretty predictable", as if the tragic regularity with which we still hear similar stories makes his boring or him any less brave for telling it.
JP: So in terms of not having sex after P, has that been a choice made by you wanting to wait until you're sure it's somebody you'll feel good after having sex with? Or, for want of a better expression, fear?
A: I guess after that it's just been a case of not really knowing what I want. Opportunities have arisen but I've always chickened out. I guess sex has just always had negative connotations to me.
JP: What about sexual activity other than intercourse?
A: What do you mean?
JP: So if you met a guy and you were attracted to him, would you fool around up until the point of actually having sex? Blowjobs, handjobs etc…
A: I haven't no. I'd like to but I haven't.
JP: Do you ever feel pressured to?
A: Only once since I’ve been in Manchester but it wasn’t too bad. By a guy I'd met in the village and we got chatting etc and kissed...I already didn't feel fab about it but let it carry on. Then he put his hand near (not on) my crotch and I, being me, freaked out and pulled away. And he was a bit put out. But that's all. So nothing bad really.
JP: No it's not "bad" per se, but isn't it funny that a hand near the crotch is deemed perfectly acceptable?
A: Not particularly no
JP: As in, if a female friend were kissing a guy and he put his hand near her crotch I'd be shocked. I'd say he was too sexually aggressive. But on a night out on Canal Street it's deemed “bog standard”. To me that's infuriating, perhaps it's not to you. Perhaps that's me being a prude.
A: No I also found it a bit much.
JP: Are your friends supportive when it comes to love and sex?
A: To be honest I have a couple of very close friends who've been very supportive. They don't really know a whole lot about the sex side of things.
JP: Do you feel even more left out of conversations because of your sex life?
A: Absolutely. I never really know what to say and I think sometimes I pretend I've done things I haven't. Which is a bit embarrassing.
I don't think this is embarrassing, in fact I think even the most confident of people find themselves spinning for effect and then cringing to themselves about it afterwards. I tell Anthony this but I sense it doesn't make him feel better.
JP: Are you looking for love (awful term)? If so, what would it take for you to feel really comfortable to have sex with them? i.e are we talking a length of time, the type of person, similar upbringing...
A: I honestly can't answer that. I would like to find love. When it comes to sex with that person, I don't know.
JP: I feel like your choice not to do anything you're uncomfortable with is a really brave one. Does it feel that way?
A: If I'm honest, sex has such negative connotations for me that I don't honestly know how I'd react if the opportunity arose again
JP:So would you say it's less of a choice, more of an inhibition?
A:It's a barrier. I cannot get over it. Not sure I ever will.
Lawrence is a 48-year-old web developer. We were introduced through a Meetup group for building confidence. He's originally from Nigeria but has lived in the UK for most of his life.
He was cautious. So cautious that we walked past three cafés that he deemed too busy to chat in and once we eventually found a spot at a bar he was still deciding whether or not to take his coat off as the drinks came.
He has a medical condition that he wouldn't disclose but said it played a part in the toll his life takes on him mentally.
Fitting in with LGBTQ+ people is a struggle for Lawrence who identifies as a man who likes men and sometimes women: “I just say I’m gay for official reasons,” he says before adding: “There’s no other check box.”
JP: Is that what you feel that you've been doing for a long time, pretending?
L: Pretending, or putting up a façade, a mask etc. It's been quite a long time. Especially because a person my age, you expect them to be married with kids. I'm not. I believe that if I wanted to be married I'd be married myself; this is what I tried to tell my parents, what I tried to tell everybody else.
JP: That must be tiring.
L: I feel emotionally and socially drained after every single encounter.
JP: You talk about putting yourself out there; did you find that there isn't a place for you out there?
L: That's exactly how I felt. From the word go. And this is why I find it difficult to even identify as gay because I'm just myself, I'm just me. If anything, what I'd actually prefer is a really close relationship where I can be myself. The problem is I'm not finding it (…) the thing is I was in that relationship before.
JP: What happened there?
L: A family thing happened with the other guy and it just ended.
JP: In terms of casual sex and promiscuity, what is your experience so far? You've already said to me before that you haven't had "full" gay sex i.e intercourse.
L: I would actually say...I dunno does this exclude me from this group now? I'd actually say I have. But that was way back in that relationship. After that I just attached myself to the church and I tried to see if I could find another relationship like that and ever since then the sex has been so very erratic, meaningless.
JP: So do you find that you would get to a certain point physically with someone and then they wanted to have sex and it would stop there?
L: I think a lot of times it's just been more anxiety that creeps into the moment and I'd say it kind of freezes me up it paralyses the situation and I just can’t do anything.
JP: How have they reacted in that situation?
L: One of the guys was kind of understanding because I noticed he kind of felt it as well. I don't know, maybe it's contagious. So he was understanding; most of the other occasions that I've tried to have sex they've not really been that understanding and I think that's probably made it worse.
JP: Did they pressure you in any way?
L: The thing is I wouldn't say there was any pressure in the majority of cases which I think is more frustrating.
JP: And how did you feel at the time?
L: Disappointed. Frustrated. Because before, initially, I actually felt as if maybe God didn't want me to have sex. On other occasions I was just so exasperated because this is what I wanted and for some reason I just couldn't have it because every time I tried to get it I just couldn't. I just clouded up. Froze up.
JP: Do you have friends that you can talk to about these anxieties?
L: I wouldn't say I do as such. Because 9/10 I just feel I have to keep everything under wraps. Especially because of my Afro-Carribean culture, where I come from. The fact that over there their attitude to gay people are to arrest them and lock them up. That's deterred me from talking to anyone about it.
JP: Even friends you've made here in London?
L: I just feel they have families really and I don't want to burden them with it
JP: So that's how you feel then, you feel it's a burden?
JP: How do you think your family would react?
L: The truth is I’ve come out to my parents before and obviously the reception wasn’t too favourable. I have been toying with the idea of doing it again, but I don’t think I’ll get the opportunity given the fact that my dad is constantly arraying ladies in front of me to get married to.
JP:How does it make you feel when he does that?
L: Exasperation and just like…
There’s a really long pause here. A pause so long that I’m not sure he’s going to start speaking again.
I want to know the last time he physically connected with another man but when I ask he's suddenly distracted by something in the window behind me. He says there were two men embracing and he was trying to work out if they were just friends.
They’re not there when I turn around.
He then talks about a massage group and an "exploring touch" workshop that he's been to and I have to be really specific in order to get an answer from Lawrence about the last time he was in bed, being physical with a guy.
L: With that guy, that relationship, about 1999.
L: I want to be able to touch a person and know how he reacts. I want him to touch me as well and understand how I react. Know what I like, know what he likes (…)
How can you jump straight into the intimate stuff without even knowing what turns someone on?
What I want is a real heart to heart with someone and if we feel the same way about each other we take it from there.
Read an additional interview of Sam with James in Dear Boy 03 AM.